NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Larry “Chip” Filer has resigned as Norfolk city manager effective immediately, and Pat Roberts has been named as his replacement.
Several sources within city government, not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said Filer departed his job as the city’s CEO after nearly four years Tuesday, although no formal announcement has been made to city staff.
Filer was not leading council in its normally scheduled work session Tuesday and no mention of Filer’s absence was made.
Instead, Roberts, who had been the deputy city manager, led the workshop and council unanimously voted to have him fill Filer’s spot.
Roberts will be making around $295,130 plus other benefits in his new role. This will make him the second highest compensated city manager in the region behind Virginia Beach City Manager Patrick Duhaney who just had his compensation raised to $303,000.
“I’m looking forward to the new challenge and am going to hit the ground running gauging city council’s priorities for the city,” Roberts said in a statement.
As of Wednesday morning, no email was ever sent out to the city workforce announcing the change in leadership. A city spokesperson hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment.
While council members publicly hadn’t said anything in regard to Filer’s future, several sources not authorized to speak about personnel matters say that behind closed doors, Mayor Kenny Alexander has been pushing to make a leadership change for several months.
Alexander told 10 On Your Side that Filer’s resignation was a mutual separation from the city and that there is “no truth” to rumors suggesting Filer was pushed out.
“Dr. Filer has served us very well over the last four years,” Alexander said. “It became evident over the last couple of weeks that it was time and he was ready to move on to do some other things.”
Norfolk’s mayor told us Filer brought a wealth of economic experience as city manager during one of the world’s most trying times.
“We were able to continue a level of service during the pandemic,” Alexander said. “We were able to maintain a AAA bond rating during the pandemic. We were able to bring people back to work safely during the pandemic. We were able to finance some of the city’s debt.”
Councilmember Andria McClellan spoke of the need for transparency during Tuesday’s meeting.
“I do want to comment on how disappointed I am in how this process has played out,” McClellan said. “I am concerned after having just come through much of the citizens’ uproar about how we hired the Norfolk police chief without having enough transparency and here we are right back at it.”
Councilman Tommy Smigiel praised Filer for his work.
“Of all the city managers that I’ve worked with, to recognize parts of East Ocean View that looked like third world countries with its infrastructure and actually find the money and invest that in East Ocean View,” Smigiel said.
Alexander listed Filer as one of the best officials the city has ever had.
“We are grateful to have had Dr. Filer for the past four years here in the city of Norfolk,” Alexander said. “I think we’re a better city, we’re a stronger city and we’ll go into the future having his footprint.”
The mayor expressed his confidence in Roberts making a seamless transition into the role.
“Pat knows his way around municipal government and has over 20 plus years of municipal government experience,” Alexander said. “We look forward to working with Pat. We wish Dr. Filer very well in the next chapter of his life.”
Two weeks ago, City Council quietly approved a “June 2023” severance agreement for Filer, which provides him a year’s pay and health insurance coverage for him and his family for a year.
Several sources confirm a majority of the City Council would have voted to terminate Filer if it was proposed. The reasons why aren’t quite clear.
Filer was appointed city manager back in August 2019 following the resignation of Doug Smith, who left for the top job at the Hampton Roads Alliance. For nearly two decades prior, Filer wasn’t in local government, but rather in higher education. He came to the city from Old Dominion University as associate vice president for entrepreneurship and economic development.
The majority of his tenure was marked by navigating the city through the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects.
Norfolk furloughed more than 500 employees and laid off nearly 60 in 2020. While neighboring cities reopened all libraries and recreation centers following government-mandated closures, Filer’s proposed budget kept some closed into 2021. At the time, he said it was done in order to keep the city on solid financial footing.
He has faced criticism for his oversight of the Norfolk Police Department and general public safety. The department saw a more than 25% percent vacancy rate in the force in the last year. However, since then, Filer put into place a series of incentives and changes to retain and attract new officers. Total crime is down 9% on the year.
The Norfolk branch of the NAACP called for his resignation earlier this year following the hiring of Mark Talbot to be the city’s next police chief. Talbot sat on Filer’s committee to vet candidates, and only applied once invited by Filer. The city auditor concluded there was no wrongdoing in the process.
Alexander, in particular, reportedly became irritated with the lack of progress on his desire to bring a new arena to Norfolk. He announced his intention in 2019. While proposals have been made, the process to develop one has occurred mostly in the dark with several conflicting statements coming from Filer.
In September of last year he said he anticipates other cities would help to build a regional arena, with more information coming in “in several weeks.” In January, he said it was still being determined where a new arena would be most feasible, with not just Military Circle Mall being considered a sight, but downtown Norfolk as well.
A FOIA request filed in May confirmed formal negotiations between the city and its preferred arena developer, Oak View Group, were infrequent for most of the year.
Both Smigiel and McClellan put out statements saying they were “shocked” to see the vote for Filer’s severance as part of the fiscal year 2024 budget vote. McClellan said there were only “talks” of Filer leaving, but nothing finalized.
The city manager, who makes $281,000 base salary according to Norfolk’s Open Data portal, is one of five positions that report to the City Council.
Discussions about the manager’s performance and employment can legally be held in closed sessions.
Roberts, who served as Suffolk’s city manager from 2015-2020 before abruptly resigning.